Cancer is a far reaching health issue that has probably had an impact on all of our lives at some point in time. According to Cancer.org, there are over 11,000,000 people in the United States living with invasive cancer. The site also indicates that in 2010, there were approximately 569,490 deaths caused by cancer in the United States.
The issues presented in this article are not cut and dry and will certainly not be solved in the next few paragraphs. The focus will be on Norman Smith who finds himself in an unfortunate and unique situation. Smith is in desperate need for a liver transplant. He was on a waiting list for the procedure but was taken off by doctors because Smith is a medical marijuana user and did not show up for a drug test. To get back on the waiting list, Smith would have to cease his medical marijuana use for six months and submit to drug testing. Joe Elford, Smith’s legal representative and an attorney for the well known group Americans for Safe Access stated that any additional delays could be the “difference between life and death.” Smith described his situation by saying “”I have inoperable cancer. If I don’t get a transplant, the candle’s lit and it’s a short fuse.” The United Network for Organ Sharing has indicated that there are no standard procedures on medical marijuana use and organ transplants. In this case Cedars-Sinai Medical is free to make whatever distinctions they see fit in determining this process.
This is not a simple issue as our hearts certainly are with Mr. Smith and hopefully he can receive the organ transplant in enough time to save his life. Cedar-Sinai is not in an envious position. Making the decision is much more difficult than writing about it. A sad reality is that there usually are never enough organs available to match the demand. Cedar-Sinai is likely always faced with tough choices. Standing in line next to Norman Smith may be someone who followed every regulation and is also faced with a potentially fatal scenario. Mr. Smith did not follow their laws and with missing his drug test other harmful substances in his system cannot be ruled out. However, Mr. Smith also has complications with chemotherapy and he has found relief through marijuana use. Additionally, if Cedar-Sinai considers Norman Smith to have a substance abuse problem with marijuana, then is it fair to say that this prevents him from receiving treatment? Often people think of substance abuse as out of the user’s control, so to penalize someone for that could be considered harsh.
Finally, let us not forget that it is always possible that marijuana is an unfair target. Would a coffee drinker be denied a cardiac procedure if he or she were unable to kick a Dunkin Donuts habit? Of course many would say “well marijuana is not totally legal and caffeine is.” This statement is not incorrect but that is more a matter of ink on legal documents. The comparison is still intriguing. One important fact to come out of this situation is that medical marijuana users may have to be conscious of the policies that their medical facility operates under. This is in no way to blame Mr. Smith as it likely has not occurred to many people to investigate this matter. Hopefully, future breakthroughs in stem cells or organ cloning would eliminate the debate on this topic. In the meantime, Norman Smith, we wish you the best and hopefully any attention you garner can result in a speedy recovery.